First Look: 13-inch MacBook Pro

After attending the Mac Event at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters yesterday, I met with company executives to get a closer look at the new MacBook Pro. It is more impressive in person than the demos were able to portray.

I left the meeting with a 13-inch MacBook Pro, but sadly this model doesn’t have the much vaunted Touch Bar. I did, however, get to spend some time playing with the Touch Bar in the Hands-On area after the keynote, so I will be able to give you some thoughts on that new feature.

I’ve only been using the MacBook Pro for about eight hours (and still have over an hour of battery left), so it’s certainly not enough time to give you a full review or even my finalized thoughts. I will tell you some of the things I like about it so far. In a future review, I’ll talk more about the Touch Bar and using the computer on some more CPU intensive tasks like recording music.

Let’s get to it…

We might as well talk about the Touch Bar first. Going into the keynote, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the Touch Bar. However, having used it a bit, I like it a lot more than I thought I would.

Touch Bar is more contextual than just changing for apps—it can change for the different things you do inside of the app as well. This makes the Touch Bar infinitely more useful because you’ll be able to do things in each app and with each task.

The Touch Bar is smart too. For instance, if you want to turn the volume down, you can tap on the volume button and then touch on the slider to control the volume level. Pretty simple. But you can do it even quicker—you can tap and hold on the volume button and just scrub left or right to control the volume level. The volume slider still appears and moves when you scrub your finger, but it’s much quicker to just tap and hold.

You can scrub through a lot of things including, songs, video, pictures, and I’m sure many other things in Apple’s built-in apps.

The types of things you can get in the Touch Bar seems to be very wide ranging. Emojis, buttons, sliders, scrollers, pictures, timelines, and the list goes on.

Since the Touch Bar is configurable, exactly how people use it will become a personal choice. It’s impossible for me to say how much use I’ll get out of it with the limited time I had yesterday, but I can see using it a lot, especially with music.

The Touch Bar has an ambient light sensor built-in so it’s always at a comfortable brightness for the conditions you’re working in. When the computer is not in use, the bar will dim after 60 seconds and then go dark after about 75 seconds. Touching the keyboard will wake it up instantly.

The Touch Bar is designed to be seen at a normal working angle when sitting at the computer. In other words, you don’t need to be looking straight down at the computer to see it properly.

There are a lot of details in the Touch Bar that exemplify Apple’s attention to detail. This is exactly what we expect from the company.

Let’s talk about something else I was very happy to see come to the MacBook Pro: The new keyboard.

MacBook Pro gets an updated version of the MacBook keyboard. The new wider keys with the butterfly mechanism is a fantastic keyboard. I loved it when it came out on the MacBook and I love the one on the pro.

It seems to me that there is a little more travel distance when you press down on a key with the newer keyboard. I actually like that a bit better. After using both, the MacBook keys didn’t have enough travel. This one feels much better to me.

I still have the same problem with the arrow keys as I had with the MacBook keyboard—together they form a rectangle, which makes it difficult to tell, just from feel, where you are on the keyboard.

The Force Touch Trackpad is 46% larger than the previous generation, but it is so quiet. My MacBook makes an audible sound like older trackpads did, but the sound on the pro is different. It’s a more subtle sound—it’s there, you can hear it, but it seems quieter, more subdued.

Being a music guy, I have to mention the speakers. They sound really good, even at high volume. Most notebook speakers will tend to crack a little bit at high volume, but these sound really clear. I fed some Ozzy through them today and they really seemed to like it—as they would.

The stereo separation was very noticeable on songs like the beginning of “Crazy Train,” which was impressive.

I didn’t try any Thunderbolt accessories on the MacBook Pro. There wasn’t enough time to do any real testing anyway, but I’ll get to that in a later article. I’ll also test out some music creation to see how the CPU does under some guitar recording stress.

The last major feature is the display. This is Apple’s first MacBook that features the use of a wide color gamut. They’ve used it in the iPhone 7 and iPad Pro, but it’s important that Apple also used it in the MacBook Pro—this is the computer that photographers and film people will be using, so it should be there.

The display is 30 percent more power efficient than the previous generation and it’s also brighter and has a higher contrast ratio.

There is nothing I’ve seen so far that gives me any pause about the new MacBook Pro. It has tons of power, an amazing display, an innovative Touch Bar, and plenty of inputs via the Thunderbolt ports. There is no doubt that I’ll be getting one of these.

  • What’s your main use for a Pro?

  • I’ve been deeply dissatisfied with how function keys work on the Mac ever since the Fn key was added. This is a major step in the right direction.

    What’s the purpose of the Fn key now that we’ve got the touch bar? Surely not just to switch Return to Enter.

    • David Stewart

      I assume Fn-Arrow will still go up a page, down a page, beginning of document, end of document. Fn-Delete will hopefully still forward delete.

      • facepalm Oh, of course. I just zoomed in on the keyboard to look for alternate captions on the keyboard. Forgot to engage my brain there.

    • Sigivald

      I recall hearing that Fn also gives you “normal f-keys” on the bar?

      • If tapping it (or holding it) just expanded one of the regions temporarily (maybe all Application, or all System) that’d be enough, really. So sure. Plenty of uses (or possible uses) for it.

    • DanielSw

      I seem to recall from the presentation that when you press the Fn key the bar displays the standard function keys.

  • samdchuck

    There was a strange strange lack of boasting about battery life in the keynote this time.

    • rick gregory

      They mentioned it at 10 hours but it feels like 10 hours is kind of the standard and not worth crowing over anymore. Early on, with the Haswell Airs etc they were so far ahead of others that it was a competitive advantage. Now, it’s table stakes.

      • samdchuck

        Which is sad.

        • rick gregory

          Why? I mean, very few people would view more battery life as a big deal. I know I don’t really care about the difference between, say, 10 and 14 hours. I’m almost never going to be without power that long.

          • samdchuck

            Because as long as I can remember Apple has always boasted about better battery life with every new release and now it seems to feels its ‘good enough’, and not even worth mentioning.

            “Good enough” and “Apple” shouldn’t go together.

        • BringinItAllTogether

          iPads have been “10 hours” since the beginning. Hasn’t ever changed no matter which iPad it is or which size it is.

  • rick gregory

    5 weeks…. grrr…. tempted to get the entry level machine but I know that’s a mistake. /impatient.

  • bitguru

    It’s interesting that MacRumors says that “the Touch Bar is essentially running watchOS on the T1 chip, which macOS then communicates with through an interconnected USB bridge that ‘relays multitouch events back to macOS.'” Since it communicates through USB, it seems to me that might be room for an external keyboard with Touch Bar in Apple’s line-up, for desktop Macs.

    • Maybe one day, but for now… I doubt many want a (total wild-assed guess here) $400 keyboard.

      • rj

        Its $300 to move up to the touch bar model. But that also includes a better CPU and video, and more thunderbolt ports. So I think a touch bar external keyboard in the $150-200 range is feasible.

        It seems inevitable that something like that will eventually be available. I can’t imagine they’d introduce a brand new input method and not make it available to desktop users, or people who use an external keyboard with their powerbooks.

        • I admit I approached it from the other angle. Their current keyboard is $100. Adding a touch bar means (roughly) adding an Apple Watch with a really weird-sized screen. What’s that worth? I gotta figure it’s about $300 all-in, especially once the battery is boosted.

          Then again, a wired keyboard costing less might be possible. I still don’t think they’re going to be as little as $200 (let alone $150) in the next year or two, though.

  • Prof. Peabody

    The only thing that gives me pause is the price. It’s a bit disappointing that reviews don’t really talk about the ridiculously high prices Apple charges for things nowadays. The reality is, the people writing these reviews are wealthy individuals themselves and kind of living in a bubble when it comes to affordability. For the average consumer, this laptop is completely out of reach price-wise.

    • Sigivald

      That’s what the MacBook is for.

      (And as someone who’s used low-end PC laptops, if that’s your price cap, Apple doesn’t want your money.

      Not because it’s snobbish, but because Apple can’t make a quality, profitable product in the $399 space.

      Indeed, I’m not sure anyone can, on quality – or on profit, without a shovel full of crapware to get kickbacks.

      Apple just isn’t in that market, nor does it have to be…

      On the other hand, I’m not so sure the “average [laptop] consumer” is actually priced out.)

      • Simon

        If the MacBook was $999 and the new $1,799 13″ Pro was $1,299, maybe even $1,499, I’d agree. But the prices on these new models is outrageous even for Apple. I am not necessarily priced out, just insulted, so won’t be buying one any time soon.

        • David Stewart

          If you look around at comparable notebooks from Dell or Microsoft they are in the same realm. So if it is outrageous, then it is an industry-wide outrage.

          • Simon

            I am too lazy to check if you are correct, but it was my impression these other companies were matching Apple’s previous generation pricing. These latest prices seem to be on a whole new level. The $1,799 price for what really ought to be the base 13″ MacBook Pro is the one I can’t get over. There is no discrete GPU, only 256GB HD, 8GB RAM and it is small. A machine like this, however beautiful, shouldn’t be costing 2 grand (if you include tax). Some are saying this is analogous to the original Air, which debuted at a similar price. I don’t buy this. This is not a new product category like that was, this is the same old MacBook Pro with a neat new toolbar. I have been happily paying the Apple tax for years, as I love the products. This Macbook Pro has an Apple tax on top of the Apple tax.

          • Prof. Peabody

            this is not true.

          • David Stewart

            Anyone can go to Microsoft’s website and see that the the Surface Book starts at exactly the same price as the 13″Macbook Pro. The Surface Book with the Performance base hits the same price as the 15″ Macbook Pro. It is a similar story for the Dell XPS laptops.

        • rick gregory

          Here’s the thing – the new entry level MacBook is the same price as the equivalent configuration was last year. What’s different is that there’s no 128g option. THAT started at $1299… but last year’s Pro with 256gig was $1499. Benchmarks put the 2.0ghz. Skylake at the equivalent of the 2.7 Broadwell in that model too.

          • Simon

            This is true, and it’s a good way to make yourself feel better when dropping the cash, but last year’s 128GB ought to be this year’s 256GB. SSDs drop in price significantly each year. As do the chips. Hence my “what really ought to be the base 13″ MacBook Pro” comment. There is a certain amount of guess work in my estimation here, but if I’m off, it’s not by far.

          • rick gregory

            Actually, the SSDs used by apple don’t really drop in price (more correctly, the SSDs in this generation are significantly faster than last) and these aren’t the same chips so, though you’re right that the chips used in the last generation are now cheaper, we’re on new chips.

            Now… do I think this model should have been $100 cheaper than it is? Actually.. yes I do. But I can’t get excited about $100.

      • Prof. Peabody

        You see? Your reply assumes that I’m broke, or cheap, or just plain poor. Why would that be? I spend thousands of dollars a year on Apple equipment. I don’t mind spending money if the device is worth it and since ALL Apple computers are quite a good deal more expensive than the Windows alternatives, I pay the “premium” on a regular basis.

        This is not that. This is Apple releasing a CRIPPLED version of this year’s Mac Book Pro 13″ simply because it’s so f*cking expensive now, that they absolutely HAD to. Apple’s prices have ALL risen significantly across the board for years now and it’s something worth talking about.

        The fact that you have to be upper-middle class just to afford an Apple product is a real thing, and it’s important. Whether you think so or not.

    • The prices have increased for the equivalent models of last year. No explanation other than that they added the touch bar. Generally Apple’s prices have been on a downward trajectory – I remember paying $6000 years ago – but it would seem they wish to reverse the trend.

      Then you add the fact that you can’t upgrade these machines, so you end up paying huge margins on Apple supplied upgrades.

      I was going to buy a new pro and hand down my current one. I will certainly wait, that is unless reviews state a dramatic increase in performance.

      • Prof. Peabody

        I disagree about the “downward” trajectory. You have to include the 1980’s and 90’s I think to justify a statement like that.

        My last Mac Pro (the tower) was about $4,000 and a new cylindrical one (three years old actually) is about $6,000 for roughly the same configuration. If they ever update it, it will likely hit $7,000 at least. And I’m only talking about quad-core models here as I don’t need more than that. You can easily configure one for much more than that.

        Apple’s prices are simply ridiculous. And they are all much higher than they were even a year or two ago. That’s the truth.

        • Elizabethbjohnson4

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  • Frogstik

    This film person isn’t going to use it…I moved to a desktop PC for my heavy video work. Creative Cloud runs the same on both. I needed power and ports for all my devices…not dongles.

    I’m actually glad I have the 2015 MBP as my Mac machine. It’s useful out of the box.

    • rattyuk

      If you’ve moved to a desktop PC then you’d not be looking at a new MacBook Pro whatever the price.

  • Will Taylor


    • Theresajmitchell

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  • Andre Da Costa

    Its certainly innovative, but also impressively expensive. I got the 13 inch Early 2015 Pro last year, so I’m not in desperate need of an upgrade. Its superfast and gets the job done, with 2 Windows VMs, iTunes, multiple tabs in Safari and Firefox. Maybe in the next 5 years when the price drops and further advances like DDR4 RAM and Flash at higher capacities. For those who have been waiting, your Christmas is here.

  • StruckPaper

    TouchBar is a real enabler. But … is anyone going to switch because of it? Will people accept the higher prices because of it? They are going to have to lower the prices in a year.

  • Costa K

    Jobs said the problem with smartphones was the bottom half – the keyboard. You were stuck with them even if you didn’t need them.

    The same with function keys. Sure you could remap them but the every day consumer wouldn’t know what remapping is. But they definitely understand a touch bar that changes depending on the program they’re using.

    Sure the average consumer won’t be using a MacBook Pro but I’m guessing the tech will trickle down.

    I feel like its de ja vu all over again!

    • Galaxy_Surfer_007

      Well, the invite did say, “Hello, again!”

      But, of course, they then dropped the ball…

  • John

    Developers really just want a straight up fast laptop with an escape key and 32 gigs. Unfortunately with the soldered in memory that isn’t possible.